On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that in its next term, it will:
l Decide whether police need a warrant before using a Global Positioning System device to track a suspect’s movements. The justices said they will hear the Obama administration’s appeal of a court ruling that favored a criminal defendant. The federal appeals court in Washington overturned a criminal conviction because police had no warrant for the GPS device they had secretly installed on a man’s car.
Other appeals courts have ruled that search warrants aren’t necessary for GPS tracking.
The Justice Department argued that warrantless use of GPS devices does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. It also said prompt resolution of the divergent court opinions is critically important to law enforcement.
A three-judge panel of Democratic and Republican appointees unanimously threw out the conviction and life sentence of Antoine Jones of Washington, a nightclub owner convicted of operating a cocaine distribution ring.
Police had put a GPS device on Jones’s Jeep and tracked his movements for a month. The judges said the prolonged surveillance was a factor in their decision.
l Leave alone a state court order requiring tobacco companies to pay $270 million for a smoking-cessation program in Louisiana. The justices turned away an appeal from cigarette makers in a long-running class-action lawsuit first filed by Louisiana smokers in May 1996.
The smokers prevailed at every step in state courts, but Justice Antonin Scalia temporarily blocked payment of the money in September, citing concerns that the cigarette makers might have been deprived of their legal rights.
l Will not hear an appeal from former detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who wanted to sue defense contractors over claims of abuse. The justices turned aside the appeal from Iraqis who said they or their relatives had been abused by interrogators employed by the two firms, CACI International and Titan. A divided federal appeals court had dismissed the lawsuits.